Best credit cards for international students in the U.S.

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Applying for a credit card can seem daunting when you don’t have a Social Security number, and that’s especially true if you’re a non-citizen who is pursuing higher education in the U.S. After all, the lack of an SSN can put you out of the running for many of the top rewards credit cards, and having no credit history to speak of certainly won’t help.

Fortunately, there are credit cards for international students available, and some of them don’t require a Social Security number or a lengthy credit history.

The key to getting a credit card as an international student is knowing which cards you may be eligible for, then figuring out what information you need to apply.

Bankrate created this guide to help in your search for the best credit card for international students. If you’re ready to build credit and access cardholder perks or earn rewards, learn more about how to get a credit card as an international student and which one is best for you.

Bankrate’s best credit cards for international students in the U.S.

Deserve EDU Mastercard for Students: Best for Amazon Prime benefits

  • 1 percent back in rewards for each dollar you spend
  • Get one-year Amazon Prime Student membership when you spend $500 on your card within three billing cycles of account opening
  • No annual fee and no foreign transaction fees
  • No security deposit required
  • 18.74 percent variable APR

Why we chose it: The Deserve EDU Mastercard does not require applicants to have a Social Security number.

The details: The Deserve EDU Mastercard for Students doesn’t charge an annual fee or a security deposit, yet you’ll get benefits like one year of Amazon Prime Student when you spend $500 in the first three billing cycles, as well as no foreign transaction fees. You also get a flat 1 percent back in cash rewards for each dollar you spend, as well as $30 in rewards for each friend you refer.

Petal 2 “Cash Back, No Fees” Visa Credit Card: Best for flat cash back rewards

  • 1 percent (or up to 1.5 percent cash back on transactions when you make 12 on-time payments), plus 2 percent to 10 percent cash back at select merchants
  • No annual fee and no foreign transaction fees
  • Earn more cash back at select merchants
  • 12.99 percent to 26.99 percent variable APR

Why we chose it: The Petal 2 Visa Credit Card lets you apply without a Social Security number provided you have an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). The ITIN is commonly used by international students and other non-citizens for the purpose of federal income tax reporting.

The details: If you have an ITIN, you can apply for the Petal 2 Visa Credit Card and begin earning 1 percent back on all your spending. You’ll even graduate to 1.25 percent with six months of on-time payments on your card, and then 1.5 percent back after 12 months of on-time payments. This card comes with a minimum credit limit of $500 and can go up to $10,000 based on creditworthiness. It doesn’t charge an annual fee or any foreign transaction fees and it has a mobile app that lets you track spending and payments on the go.

Capital One SavorOne Rewards for Students: Best for dining and entertainment

  • 3 percent cash back on dining, entertainment and streaming services
  • 1 percent cash back on general purchases
  • No annual fee and no foreign transaction fees
  • Available for fair credit
  • 22.99 percent variable APR

Why we chose it: You can apply for the Capital One SavorOne Rewards for Students with an ITIN and it offers a stunning 3 percent back on categories students can take advantage of.

The details: Launched in August 2021, the Capital One SavorOne Rewards for Students credit card earns unlimited 3 percent cash back on three categories: dining, entertainment and streaming services in addition to unlimited 1 percent cash back on everything else. Plus, cardholders earn 8 percent back on Vivid Seats ticket purchases through Jan. 31, 2023. Cash back rewards accumulated with Capital One cards don’t expire over the life of the account, so students can build up cash rewards. There are also no foreign transaction fees or annual fees.

Capital One Quicksilver Rewards for Students: Best for everyday spending

  • Unlimited 1.5 percent cash back on all purchases
  • No annual fee or foreign transaction fees
  • Available for fair credit
  • 22.99 percent variable APR

Why we chose it: Also launched in August 2021, Capital One’s Quicksilver Rewards for Students card offers an enticing 1.5 percent cash back and lets students apply with an ITIN instead of an SSN.

The details: With the Capital One Quicksilver Rewards for Students, cardholders can earn a flat 1.5 percent cash back on all everyday spending, making this a competitive rewards rate on a student credit card. Like most other cards for students, the Quicksilver Rewards for Students doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees or annual fees and it’s accessible for students with fair credit or better. Cardholders have the option for the cash back rewards sent to them via statement credits, check, gift cards or applied directly to new purchases.

Chase Freedom® Student: Best for partner benefits

  • 1 percent cash back on all purchases
  • No annual fee
  • $50 bonus after making your first purchase within three months of account opening
  • $20 credit for accounts in good standing every year for five years
  • 14.99 percent variable APR

Why we chose it: International students can apply for the Chase Freedom Student credit card using an ITIN instead of a Social Security number and earn 1 percent cash back on everyday spending.

The details: With the Chase Freedom Student credit card, you can earn a flat cash back rate on all purchases, plus enjoy a couple of partner benefits like a complimentary DoorDash Pass for three months (when activated before Dec. 31, 2021) and 5 percent cash back on Lyft (through March 2022). Furthermore, you’ll earn $20 Good Standing Rewards after each account anniversary for five years when you pay on time and a $50 sign up bonus after making your first purchase within three months of opening the card. Other benefits include free credit score access with Chase’s Credit Journey program and no annual fees. The downside is that this card does charge a 3 percent foreign transaction fee, which could make traveling out of the U.S. a pain.

Capital One Journey Rewards for Students: Best for streaming service benefits

  • 1 percent back on all your purchases, or 1.25 percent back when you pay your bill on time
  • Available for fair credit
  • $5 credit each month (for 12 months) toward streaming services charged to your account (within the first 18 months of card ownership)
  • No annual fee and no foreign transaction fees
  • 22.99 percent variable APR

Why we chose it: The Journey Student Rewards from Capital One lets students apply with an ITIN instead of a Social Security number.

The details: The Journey Student Rewards from Capital One doesn’t charge an annual fee, yet cardholders earn 1 percent back in rewards, or 1.25 percent back when they pay their credit card bill on time. Approved applicants can also get $60 in credits toward streaming services charged to their card in the first 18 months, given out in increments of $5 per month. Capital One will also automatically review your account for credit line increases after six months. As an added bonus, there are no foreign transaction fees.

How to get a credit card as an international student

If you’re wondering how to get a credit card as an international student, there are some best practices that can increase your chances of success. Consider the following tips as you decide when to apply:

  • Consider looking for credit cards in your home country first.  If you go this route, make sure to look for a credit card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees.
  • If you want a U.S. credit card for international students, wait until you arrive in the United States. Many U.S. credit cards require a stateside address before you can get approved.
  • See if you can get an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). Without an SSN, you’ll be more likely to get a U.S. credit card if you have an ITIN. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security offers a page on its website with information for international students who want to apply for an ITIN.
  • See if you can qualify for a Social Security number (SSN). Some students, including those with F-1 visas, may be eligible for an SSN, which could open the door to a wider variety of rewards credit cards. Once again, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security offers a dedicated webpage for students who want to apply for an SSN.

What to look for in a student credit card

Students who are hoping to build credit or earn rewards should make sure to compare several card options to find the right fit.

For example, international students will want to give preference to credit cards that don’t charge foreign transaction fees. That way, you can use your credit card within the U.S. and when you head home for visits without worrying about racking up extra charges.

When it comes to credit cards for international students, other key benefits to look for include rewards for your spending and no annual fees. Some credit cards for international students also offer automatic credit line increases after you make enough on-time payments.

If you’re struggling to get approved for the credit card you really want, you can also consider a secured credit card at first. This type of credit card requires a cash deposit as collateral, yet your on-time payments will be reported to the three credit bureaus.

A secured credit card can be a great first step to establishing a credit history in the U.S. Not only can a secured credit card help you build credit, but it can also help you access higher credit lines and build credit so you can get approved for a better rewards credit card later on.

International student credit cards FAQ

Which is the best credit card for international students?

The best credit card for international students in the United States is one that has high rewards rates in the categories you spend in, charges no foreign transaction fees and is accessible to students who don’t have a Social Security number. These cards include the Capital One SavorOne Rewards for Students, Capital One Quicksilver Rewards for Students and Deserve EDU Mastercard.

Are international students eligible for credit cards?

As long as the credit card issuer accepts Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITIN) as a substitute for Social Security numbers, international students are eligible to apply for credit cards. However, if you have a very limited credit history or no credit history at all, it may be difficult to get approved.

Can I get a credit card without a Social Security number?

Yes. Some credit card issuers, like Capital One and Chase, accept ITINs in lieu of Social Security numbers for student credit card applications.

The bottom line

Choosing a credit card as an international student in the U.S. all comes down to finding the best one for you. If you prefer to dine out with friends, stream Netflix or Hulu and go to concerts, then the SavorOne Rewards for Students will net the most rewards on your spending. However, plenty of credit cards for international students also offer unlimited, flat-rate cash back rewards for all spending, making it easy to reap the benefits of everyday purchases.

As long as the credit card issuer accepts ITINs as well as SSNs, you can apply for a credit card from a U.S. card issuer and begin to improve your credit or build new credit in the United States as a student.

Written by
Holly D. Johnson
Author, Award-Winning Writer
Holly Johnson began her career working in the funeral industry, which may make you wonder why she works in personal finance now. Yet, the funeral industry taught the author everything she needs to know about the value of one's money and time. Johnson left the mortuary business a decade ago in order to explore her passion for personal finance and travel the world, and since then, she and her husband have built a debt-free lifestyle that has them on the path to retire very wealthy in their 40s. Holly's love of budgeting also led to the creation of her debt payoff book, “Zero Down Your Debt: Reclaim Your Income and Build a Life You’ll Love."
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